Blindfold Test: Maynard Ferguson
Originally printed in Down Beat, June 1995.
By Dave Helland

Ferguson is a member of the Down Beat Hall of Fame, and has been touring internationally for more than 40 years. He expresses admiration for the recordings of Randy Brecker, Paul Smoker, Wynton Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Steven Bernstein, and Shorty Rogers.

Elected to Down Beat's Hall of Fame by his fans in 1992, Maynard Ferguson is one of jazz's remaining road warriors, playing 200-plus dates a year. His career began in his native Canada as a teenager leading a big band and playing the trumpet hits of the day. A stint with Stan Kenton in the early '50s brought him to the attention of jazz fans everywhere.

"There's so many great young trumpet players out there now," says Ferguson. "A lot are coming out with the predominant influence--which is a great combination--of Miles and Wynton. You hear it in what classical trumpet players refer to as the 'missed' notes. They're not really missed, that's just the way they're playing them."

Ferguson's latest release is These Cats Can Swing (Concord Jazz). His The Complete Roulette Recordings of Maynard Ferguson And His Orchestra is available from Mosaic.

Randy Brecker
"When it Was" (from Brecker Brothers' Out Of The Loop, GRP 1994) Brecker, trumpet, Michael Brecker, tenor sax; Robbie Kilgore, Maz Kessler, rhythm programming.

I love that kind of thing--the pulsation is great. The drummer was not showing off the most incredible display of technique in the history of modern American drumming--instead of that he gave us the groove.

The trumpet had a nice lyrical feel to it. Sometimes, especially guys like me that have a certain amount of technique, we have to be careful that we don't display too much of that on tunes that really don't warrant it. The tenor player has his upper harmonics together. 3 1/2 and I have a hunch if I heard a different cut I would have liked that even better.

Paul Smoker
"Caravan" (from Alone, Sound Aspects, 1988) Smoker, trumpet, Phil Haynes, drums, Ron Rohovit, bass.

That was an amazing display of technique, first of all. There's a lot of confidence in his playing. This reminds me of things going on in Europe where a lot of classical musicians were into the freedom forms of jazz as it was called. Classical pianists got into it because they found it hard to play "One O'Clock Jump," but they could really buzz and smoke on technically demanding things. Free thought allowed them to create their own changes pretty much when they wanted to, though this is based on the beginning and end of "Caravan." To rate this technically, everybody, the drummer included, has a lot of chops, and I feel sometimes you have to rate things higher because of what the artists was saying and wanting to do. I give it 4 stars. I had terrific admiration for what was played rather than any great love for it. These guys obviously love the direction they're taking, and I respect that--I enjoyed listening to it. I'll tell you what, he was really pumping those valves and has an extremely good double-tongue technique.

Wynton Marsalis
"I Can't Get Started" (from Tune in Tomorrow, Columbia, 1990) Marsalis, trumpet.

I love that way of playing. This was lovely and very lyrical. The genius of Ellington sounds through once again with the chords and voicings they're using. It reminds me of Slide Hampton or Benny Golson's writing in terms of getting into beautiful changes, although not the original changes. Still, you're not taking it out so far you're turning it into a scholastic exercise. 3 1/2 stars for the writing, and for the trumpet playing at least 4 because it is so clean and lovely.

Wallace Roney
"Muerte" with an excerpt from "The Art Of The Fugue" (from Misterios, Warner Bros., 1994) Roney, trumpet.

Very nice mood, especially at the end. The trumpet player really has great ears. He runs beautifully through changes; obviously, has a very fine jazz player. He goes into some out chords, then it feels very classical toward the end--almost like a different writer. The instrumentation being used gives a classical feeling not unlike [Miles Davis'] Sketches of Spain. 4 stars.

Shorty Rogers
"Chances Are" (from Swingers, RCA/Bluebird, 1958) Rogers, trumpet, Mel Lewis, drums.

Here is the old-fashioned concept of letting everybody blow. Probably, the leader is a nice guy. I'd like to hear two soloists on a tune, yet I'm a funny guy to talk that way because we have long solos in our band. We're more like Ellington's concept of not worrying about everybody getting to play and shortening everybody up. Give it 3 1/2 stars, 3 stars. Incidentally, the music is better than the way they made the drums sound. We hear some thuds there I would like to have heard recorded better.

DH: This is Shorty Rogers.

Shorty and I were together in Stan Kenton's band. He was a great jazz trumpet player and a marvelous composer/arranger. I said this was a nice guy--Shorty was one of the sweetest guys you'd ever meet.

Steven Bernstein
"Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself" (from Medeski Martin & Wood's Its A Jungle In Here, Gramavision, 1993) Bernstein, trumpet.

I really like this. Along with the outness, they're really pumping some rhythmic content. The trumpet player feels comfortable in this context, whereas in some other out things we hear, the soloist is really uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel the pay-attention-or-I'll-play-the-wrong-changes feeling from a great player, which makes him a mediocre player. I'll give it 3 1/2 because they made the effort to do something besides playing "Tiny's Blues."